Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holly Girls

Esme Nuala

Above, from left to right: Gardener Esme Webb carrying a trug of English holly; volunteer Nuala Outes putting berried holly branches into the arch over the postern gate entrance.

Visitors entering the Museum by the postern gate (the main entrance to The Cloisters) from now through the first week of January will pass under a great arch of holly, the plant most strongly associated with the medieval celebration of Christmastide. (For more on the medieval significance of this beautiful and beloved tree, see “The Holly and The Ivy,” December 18, 2008). The ceremonial placing of a beneficent plant above a doorway is an ancient practice common to many cultures and periods. (Four of the doorways in the Main Hall are adorned with arches of ivy, apples, hazelnuts, and rose hips; see “Decking the Halls: The Arches,” December 2, 2008.) The red-berried holly was given a masculine persona in the Middle Ages, in contrast to the black-fruited ivy, which was considered to be feminine. In botanical fact, holly is dioecious, and its male and female reproductive organs are borne on separate plants. There are female hollies and male hollies, but only the females bear berries.


Assistant Horticulturist Carly Still finishing off the base of the holly arch with a corbel of pine cones.


???Deirdre Larkin and the staff of The Cloisters Gardens

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Comments (4)

  1. Helen De Bellis Says:

    Very happy that the Cloisters are still being cared for in a loving way.

    In the 30s and 40s I spent a great deal of time there with my sister, then, when I worked in the city, with friends.

    Then when I was engaged and my fiance attended NYU we picnicked, studied and just relaxed weekends. Under G.I. Bill, there were not too many beautiful free places to go to.

    I wish I could see it again.

    Sincerely, Helen De Bellis

  2. Ann Cannon Says:

    I so wish I could see this in person. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Anne Hall Says:

    I think one of the most enjoyable jobs when working with historic houses is the chance to decorate for Christmas in the way which is historically accurate for the time period represented. I would love to see the Cloisters at Christmas, medieval art, music, architecture, plants, what could be better!

  4. James Says:

    Growing up with a sister Holly, and then her daughter Holly, the plant always animated itself to me. Our family will visit the Cloisters this Christmas Eve to enjoy the medieval art and architecture, and as the green hollies and ivies curl across the stone and sun, I will hear their ancient stories told again.

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